Why Lakeview? And Where’s the Lake?
Lakeview’s story begins in the 1880s with the Elyton Land Co., which developed the City of Birmingham. The company hoped to attract residents to the City’s Southside by first building a scenic resort on densely forested property on the north slope of Red Mountain.
Plans for the resort included a beautiful lake and amenities that would be easily accessed via a streetcar system. The central artery for the streetcar line was Highland Avenue, begun in 1884 and envisioned as a grand boulevard that would attract Birmingham’s industrial, financial and political elite to build fine homes suitable for their stature. The development, described as the “most fashionable suburb in Birmingham” included about 1,500 acres.
Under the leadership of company President Dr. Henry Caldwell, work on the 100-acre park began in 1883 at the intersection of what is now Highland and Clairmont Avenues. According to the Southside historic district nomination, Lake View Park was named after a Chicago neighborhood located along the shores of Lake Michigan that was a popular summer getaway spot for residents.
Developers dammed natural springs to create the lake, then built an island as a site to stage operas and other performances. The resort eventually included a casino with refreshment rooms, a pavilion with a bowling alley, skating rink, basement swimming pool and dance floor, boat houses, several conservatories, the Lakeview Theatre and an adjacent baseball park. A magnificent 72-room hotel opened in July 1887 with several elaborate parlors, a ballroom and a billiard room; “French cooks were employed and all meats served were purchased in New York,” wrote James F. Sulzby, Jr., in “Historic Alabama Hotels and Resorts” (University of Alabama Press, 1960). Managers added 60 rooms a year later to meet demand, along with several ornate cottages built on the mountainside. Two Presidents, Grover Cleveland (‘88) and Benjamin Harrison (’91), visited the hotel, which eventually accommodated 320 guests.
The resort became the gathering spot in the summer for the elite of Birmingham and elsewhere across the South, and crowds were tremendous. “On Sundays and holidays, many who lived in the City would flock out to the Lakeview resort. Richard Dabney, author of “Birmingham’s Highlands Park,“ (Arcadia Publishing, 2006) states: “Every 30 minutes, from sunrise to midnight, a train car of the dummy line would make a stop at the resort, which existed for people to escape the dirty air of the city and enjoy a quieter and cooler, location in the Highlands.” Sulzby in his book calls Lakeview “the greatest and crowning development of aristocracy of the Highlands. Lakeview Hotel, together with the magnificent park and grounds, was known far and wide for its hospitality.”